Homeless Disabled Youth Sues Los Angeles County to Get General Relief Benefits After Being Led in Circles for Eight Months

June 9, 2016

Plaintiff Ivan Galvez Files a Motion for Preliminary Injunction Today in Federal Court 
To Force Los Angeles County to Provide Him with the County’s Benefit of Last Resort — 
$221 Per Month – After Trying Unsuccessfully To Get on General Relief for Eight Months
LOS ANGELES (June 9, 2016) — Ivan Galvez has had a difficult life. At age five, he was physically abused and as a result, he was placed in the foster care system. He eventually became homeless at age 16, when he was told he was too much of a burden. He tried desperately to stay in school by staying with friends and one teacher, even sleeping at the school for a time, but it has been hard. He has attended over 20 different schools because of being in foster care, and over the years he has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental disabilities.

After he turned 18 years old, Mr. Galvez applied for General Relief (GR) and Food Stamps (CalFresh) in September 2015. An advocate was able to help him apply for CalFresh online, and he received those benefits immediately. However, GR has been another story. Despite dozens of visits, phone calls, and repeated appointments, Mr. Galvez has not been able to get on GR. Although the County has an obligation to provide assistance, he has never been offered any kind of accommodation.

“Each time I had to go back to the GR office, I got so agitated and nervous. It’s hard for me to be in crowded rooms with strangers because of what happened to me in the past. The last time I was there on my own, I waited for five hours and still wasn’t able to talk to anyone and so I finally had to leave because I couldn’t control my emotions.”

Today, Mr. Galvez files a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to be given the General Relief benefits to which he is entitled, retroactive to his initial application date. His lawsuit seeks GR benefits on behalf of a class of all Los Angeles County residents with mental health conditions who have been denied meaningful access to the County’s GR program. “This situation is all the more unreasonable given that Mr. Galvez was able to get CalFresh benefits by applying online. There is no reason the County should not allow applicants for GR to submit required paperwork on-line, by mail and through community organizations and partners. If they did, Mr. Galvez would have been able to get the assistance he so desperately needs, to get out of a currently dangerous situation where he is living.” Said Anna Rivera, of the Disability Rights Legal Center and co-counsel.

Furthermore, “Nothing demonstrates more tragically the failure of the County to provide meaningful access to its most vulnerable residents than this eight-month delay in providing Mr. Galvez with $221 per month,” said Anne Richardson, an attorney from Public Counsel representing the plaintiffs.

“I was treated like less than a human being when I went to the GR office, I had to go back so many times and they wouldn’t help me after eight months of waiting and trying,” said Mr. Galvez. “The County has an obligation under its own policies to determine eligibility and take appropriate action no later than 30 days from the date of first contact,” said Robert Newman, attorney from Western Center for Law and Poverty who is also counsel for plaintiffs. “There is just no excuse for this egregious eight-month delay.”

The preliminary injunction is filed on the same day that the same advocates, along with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, filed a motion for preliminary injunction in a related case, demanding that applicants be allowed the ability to apply for GR without having to go into the County offices. That case is Housing Works et. al. vs. County of Los Angeles et. al., Case No. 2:15-cv-08982 GW (RAOx). General Relief provides $221 in monthly cash assistance for those living in the most extreme poverty, often providing their only income. Numerous other county programs, including CalFresh, CalWORKs and Medi-Cal, accept applications by mail, online, and through community organizations and partners, allowing applicants to avoid a trip to overcrowded county offices. The motion in the Housing Works case asks the county to grant General Relief applicants the same remote access.

For those with mental and developmental disabilities, the current application process presents a daunting and insurmountable barrier to securing General Relief benefits. Mental health workers and other advocates accompanying clients have witnessed their clients suffer anxiety attacks and other symptoms while waiting for service.

“The County must get serious about providing access to all those who are eligible for its services, and we call on them to take a hard look at how their practices have become a barrier for those who can least afford to be kept out of the social safety net,” said Charles Barquist of Morrison & Foerster.

The case is Galvez et. al. vs. County of Los Angeles et. al., Case No. 2:16-cv-03979 GW(RAOx) in the US District Court, Central District of California. Plaintiff is Ivan Galvez, on behalf of himself and a class of similarly situated individuals. Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Legal Center Public Counsel, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and Morrison & Foerster. Copies of the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction are available at www.drlcenter.org.

About Disability Rights Legal Center
Founded in 1975, Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) is the nation’s oldest national cross-disability advocacy organization. It seeks to protect and to expand the autonomy, liberty and inclusion of people with disabilities. To learn more visit www.drlcenter.org

About Public Counsel
Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.publiccounsel.org.

About Western Center on Law and Poverty
Founded in 1967, Western Center on Law and Poverty is an independent nonprofit law firm that brings about system-wide change on behalf of low-income individuals and families through pivotal impact litigation; hard hitting advocacy; negotiations with state and local government and support for local legal aid programs.

About Morrison & Foerster LLP
Morrison & Foerster is an international law firm with a long history of litigating for civil rights and civil liberties.